Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. HE AUTHENTICATES HIMSELF AS THE LEADER OF THIS EXODUS.
1. He evinces his social qualification.
(1) He announces himself as "the son of Seraiah." This was the high priest who was killed by Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25:18, 21). Ezra was not immediately his son, for even supposing him to have been born the year of Seraiah's death, that would make him now 122 years of age! The immediate son of Seraiah who went into captivity was Jehozadak (1 Chronicles 6:14, 15). Ezra, therefore, was probably the grandson or great-grandson of Jehozadak, and nephew or grand-nephew to Jeshua, the high priest who accompanied Zerubbabel. By calling himself "the son of Seraiah" he seems to have claimed now to be in some sort his representative. Jeshua was probably deceased. This stepping over intermediate generations has other examples in this list (vers. 1-5), for it only reckons sixteen from Seraiah to Aaron, whereas, according to 1 Chronicles 6., there are twenty-two.
(2) Lineage is not without religious as well as civil advantages. Sons of Aaron only could officiate as priests. It was of substantial advantage to have descent from Abraham when temporal blessings of the covenant were limited to his seed, for these were not without their relation to the spiritual, though these are limited to the children of his faith. Children of godly persons are generally those who keep up the succession of the Church both in its membership and ministry (see Isaiah 65:23).
2. He evinces his moral qualifications. "He was a ready scribe," etc.
(1) This law is distinguished as that "which the Lord God of Israel had given." The solemnities of Sinai and the miracles of the first exodus are here called to mind. Such a glorious authentication can be pleaded in favour of no other system of religion. Buddhism? Hinduism? Confucianism? Mahommedanism?
(2) This is the law, therefore, to be studied. Its author, God. Its matter, truth the most sublime. Its spirit, holiness. Its end, heaven.
(3) A ready scribe (not a skilful penman only, but an able expounder also) of such a law has the noblest qualifications to be a leader of men.
3. He evinces his political qualification.
(1) He had the commission of the king. "The king granted him all his request." There was great advantage in this, viz., to influence the Jews to muster, to influence the heathen to aid them.
(2) This he had "according to the good hand of the Lord his God upon him." By God's blessing he had wisdom to influence the king. That blessing also disposed the king to listen (Ezra 6:22). Note - God is in everything good; it is our duty to discern this.
II. HE RELATES THE SUCCESS OF HIS UNDERTAKING.
1. In the muster.
(1) He had "some of the children of Israel." Those who came to his standard were volunteers (see ver. 13). They numbered 1773 adult males, which with a proportionate number of women and children would make 9000 persons.
(2) Amongst these were persons of influence. There were "priests and Levites." Of these last some were of the families of the "singers" and of the "porters."
(3) There were also Nethinims, descendants of those "whom David and the princes bad appointed for the service of the Levites" (Ezra 8:20). The limitation of particular functions to families tends to perfect efficiency. The service of God in all its departments should be the most efficient.
2. In the journey.
(1) Incidents are scantily given. The time occupied was four months (ver. 9). It appears to have been, at least for the able-bodied, a march; for whence could carriages be procured for the transport of 9000 persons? Amongst the requisites they were provided with they had tents for their encampment (Ezra 8:15). During their pilgrimage their hearts would be in Zion. So the Christian pilgrim on this earth, etc.
(2) If incidents are not particularly given, the success of the enterprise is, most emphatically. They "went up from Babylon" and "came to Jerusalem" (vers. 6, 8, 9). Far better go up from the mystic Babylon to the mystic Jerusalem than reverse the journey, as too many do. Ezra had not only the skill to plan an exodus, but also the energy to carry it out. Many a good thought perishes for lack of executive ability. Happy is the coincidence of noble thoughts and noble deeds.
3. In the blessing of God.
(1) Ezra "sought the law of the Lord." No study more remunerative - more ennobling - more pleasing to God.
(2) He sought it in earnest. "Prepared his heart," viz., by raising it above impure prejudices; by seeking the light of the great Inspirer in prayer.
(3) He reduced it to practice. He prepared his heart "to do it." Glorious example. His life was therefore righteous, and his influence consequently great - viz.,
(a) With God.
(b) With the king.
(c) With the people.
(4) And "he taught it to Israel." He taught Israel the "statutes," viz., precepts and "judgments," viz., sanctions (1 Kings 6:12; Ezekiel 11:12). What a degenerate succession from the noble Ezra were the scribes of our Lord's day! Let us emulate his qualities. - J.A.M.
I. WHAT WE KNOW HE WAS AND DID. He was -
1. A priest, claiming descent, as we see, from Aaron (ver. 5); and we doubt not that he discharged, faithfully and conscientiously, the duties of the priesthood. He was, moreover, what came to be called -
2.A scribe (ver. 6), i.e.
(1) a student,
(2) an interpreter, and
(3) a copyist of the law.
Ezra "prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach," etc. (ver 10): These three functions of the scribe include the three most important duties a man can undertake: viz.,
(1) his duty to himself, in studying the will of God as revealed in his word, that he may have it in his own heart; and,
(2) his duty to his own generation, in teaching his fellows what he has learned: in interpreting, in "giving the sense" (Nehemiah 8:8), in "teaching statutes and judgments" (ver. 10), i.e. in declaring and enforcing the great truths which God had revealed, especially those which affected the duty and the prospects of the Jewish people; and
(3) his duty to his race, in copying, and thus multiplying and preserving intact the word and the very words of God. Ezra "gave his heart" to this (ver. 10), and the result was that he did it with conspicuous and commanding ability (Nehemiah 8). He was a "ready scribe" (ver. 6).
3. Administrator and reformer. He conducted the party whom he headed to Jerusalem in peace and safety (ver. 8); there he established himself as leader of the people, and set about the work of reforming abuses with a vigorous hand. His ardour led to a serviceable organisation and reform. He seems also to have been, as few strong-willed men are, a co-operator with others. He acted with Nehemiah, the governor, and it may well have been difficult to define strictly their respective offices.
4. Man of influence with his fellows. There was that about him, due to the elevation and disinterestedness of his character as well as to the vigour and robustness of his mind, which gave him strange influence with the king, so that he gave him leave to lead out a large return party, and also entrusted him with large powers in the commission. Men who, like Ezra, earnestly seek the will of God and do what they know to be right (ver. 10), and lay themselves out for "doing good and communicating" (Hebrews 13:16), are likely to have power with men.
5. Man through whom God wrought. "The hand of the Lord his God was upon him" (vers. 6, 9, etc.). His soul felt the quickening touch of the Divine finger, and it kindled with a sacred glow of piety and zeal. He was moved of God to attempt great things, and helped of God to achieve them. His life flowed on like a fertilising river, and did so because "all his springs were in God" (Psalm 87:7). Our character may contain much that is excellent, and our lives include much that is honourable, but except the "hand of the Lord our God be upon us," renewing our heart and blessing our life, we shall not be or do that which is pleasing to him or useful to our fellows.
II. GENERALLY RECEIVED TRADITION RESPECTING EZRA. It is commonly believed among the Jews that he instituted the Great Synagogue, that he settled the canon of Scripture, that he himself wrote the books of the Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, and (perhaps) Esther, and that he established the system of synagogue worship. This last arose about his time, and, if indeed due to him, is a work which laid his countrymen, and indeed us all (for had not the forms of the synagogue something, if not much, to do with the forms of the early Church?), under a heavy debt of gratitude. Ezra was a holy and zealous man, with a strong mind and a firm will, exercising a commanding influence on his contemporaries, making the word of God the basis and mainspring of his action, seeking and striving for the purity of the people of God. Some things he did we know. Others we know not of. We may not be so great and distinguished as he was. It may not be in our power to render such signal services as he did, or to leave behind us such a reputation as he has left. Yet in the essentials of his character and work we may be like him. We also may -
(1) Be devout students of God's will as revealed in his word - "preparing our heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it."
(2) Open our hearts to receive heavenly influences; gain by humility, docility, and prayer "the hand of the Lord our God upon us," so that he will dwell in us and work through us.
(3) Make known the will of God to others, teaching in some sphere, higher or humbler, the word of God and the truth of Jesus Christ.
(4) Co-operate cheerfully with others, yielding our preferences to theirs, being "of the same mind in the Lord" with those who are our fellow-labourers in the field of Christian work. And if we do this as did Ezra, we shall, like him,
(5) do that which men will mark and praise, but much more that they will not record; much, however, that will not be unwritten in some book of God, and that will "in no wise lose its reward." - C.
I. THAT HE IS GENERALLY A MAN OF GOOD MORAL ANCESTRY. "The son of Aaron the chief priest" (ver. 5). Ezra was in the line of a renowned and religious ancestry; the past history of Israel would be full of meaning to him; sacred traditions would inspire him in the present national crisis, It is well for a minister to have in his ancestry men whose lives and activities have been intimately associated with the Church; their holy example will animate him; natural sympathy will stimulate him; the sacred enterprise of his family will inspire him; a blessed heritage will be his. It is a privilege for a minister to be in the line of Aaron, if he continue faithfully in the work of Aaron. The inspiration and influence of a holy ancestry is a rich ministerial endowment.
II. THAT HE IS A MAN OF SELF-SACRIFICING SPIRIT. Ezra left Babylon for Jerusalem. He exchanged the comfort and influence which he enjoyed in the court of Artaxerxes for the hardships of a perilous journey, and for the broken fortunes of Israel. The true minister will ever be ready to leave Babylon for Jerusalem; he will esteem luxury, and even life itself, as subservient to the welfare of the people of God. Christ left a better court than Babylon, and allied himself with sinful men that he might restore their broken hopes. The early disciples left all and followed Christ; the carnal must be sacrificed to the spiritual.
III. THAT HE IS A MAN INTELLIGENTLY TAUGHT IN THE WORD OF GOD. "And he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses" (ver. 6).
1. He intelligently understood the truth.
(1) Its divinity.
(2) Its obligation.
2. He carefully prepared his moral nature for the reception of the truth. "For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord" (ver. 10).
3. He constantly endeavoured to make his conduct an embodiment of the truth. "And to do it" (ver. 10).
4. He wisely recognised the deeper meanings of the truth. "To seek the law of the Lord"
5. He earnestly sought to impart to others a knowledge of the truth. "And to teach in Israel." Thus the true minister will understand the gospel; will prepare his soul by repentance and prayer for the reception of the gospel in all its entirety; will exhibit the gospel in his daily conduct; will seek the hidden messages of the gospel; and will strive to bring mankind to a knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus.
IV. THAT HE IS A MAN CAPABLE OF ATTACHING MEN TO HIMSELF (ver 7; compare Ezra 8:16, 18). Ezra went not alone to Jerusalem, but succeeded in getting many to accompany him.
1. He awakened sympathy in many of his comrades.
2. He awakened conscience in some of his comrades.
3. He employed appropriate agencies to induce others to join him in the journey (Ezra 8:18). The true minister will employ all rightful means to induce men to walk with him in the ways of a new life to heaven; he will not isolate himself from men, but take them with him by the force of sympathy.
V. THAT HE IS A MAN WHO ENDEAVOURS RIGHTLY TO INFLUENCE THE CIVIL AUTHORITIES. Ezra was evidently on the most friendly terms with Artaxerxes; magistrates and ministers should be in sympathy with each other. The sovereign and the scribe should be mutually helpful; there should be no antagonism between the Church and the state. The true minister will cultivate a judicious co-operation with the "powers that be." Ezra taught the king, hence his knowledge of the God of Israel (ver. 15). It is the office of the minister to instruct men in lofty social station, when they have the opportunity, as well as to aid the poor Israelite. The Church is the best teacher of the state. - E.
Ezra 6. and the events with which the final chapters of the book are concerned. The prophetic voice was silent; Haggai and Zechariah had long since passed away. Zerubbabel, the last representative of the house of David, in whose person some had looked for a restoration of the Jewish kingdom, was dead. The high priesthood, which had been filled by the saintly Jeshua, was occupied by Eliashib, who became connected by marriage with two conspicuous enemies of the faith of Israel. His grandson married a daughter of Sanballat the Horonite; he himself "was allied unto Tobiab," to whom he gave a residence "in the courts of the house of God" (Nehemiah 13:4-7, 28). Darius had been succeeded by Xerxes, the story of whose pride, lasciviousness, passion, and feebleness is one of the most ignoble of the records of classic history. He was the Ahasuerus of the book of Esther. We may judge from the book of Esther how unfavourable the times were for carrying on the national and spiritual restoration of Israel. The full extent of the debasement of the settlers in Palestine was not known in Babylon; it broke on both Ezra and Nehemiah with painful surprise (Ezra 9.; Nehemiah 13.). But enough was known to awaken concern; he desired "to teach in Israel statutes and judgments." Filled with this pious desire, he obtained permission to go up to Jerusalem.
I. THE CHARACTER OF EZRA. He was a priest, but he was still more a scribe; tradition assigns to him a leading part in the formation of the canon of Jewish Scriptures. The beginning of the study of Hebrew literature belongs to this period; the dignity of the pursuit invested the name "scribe" with honour, changed the mere registrar of documents and chronicler of events into the scholar and teacher. The change of language consequent on the deportation of the Hebrews into Babylon rendered it necessary that some should draw the inspiring record of the past from the obscurity of a dead or dying language, and make the people acquainted with their Divine- mission and the duties that mission imposed upon them. Above all, the law of the Lord was the object of Ezra's reverence; he was "a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the Lord God of Israel had given;" he "had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do and teach it." The character of Ezra was intimately associated with his vocation: his were the habits of the student; his virtues were not those of the statesman, the warrior, or the priest, but the virtues of the scholar; it was his not to give, but to interpret, laws.
1. The profound piety of the man first strikes us. The precepts of the law were to him "the words of God;" behind the writings he saw the august personal authority of the ever-living Ruler of his people. He lived in awe of his will; he had a deep conviction of the evil of sin against him, so deep that it impressed itself on others; they who sympathised with his purpose were those who "trembled at the words of the God of Israel" (Ezra 9:4; Ezra 10:3). He had a vivid consciousness of his mission, and the nearness of God to him in its fulfilment; again and again he refers his success to "the good hand of his God upon him."
2. Ezra had courage, but it was the courage of the student; not impulsive, but meditative. He knew and feared the dangers of the way; but he knew how to conquer fear (Ezra 8:21-23). He needed to be aroused to effort, and when he was called to action he prepared himself for it by consecration (Ezra 10:4, 5). There is a physical, and there is also a moral, courage; that is the most enduring bravery which knowing of dangers, faces them, trembles but advances, which supplies the lack of impulse by resolve. The "fear of the Lord" casts out all other fear.
3. The sensitive conscience and tender sympathy of the recluse are also his. Contrast his manifestation of feeling with that of Nehemiah when confronted with glaring impiety (ch. 9.; Nehemiah 13.). Nehemiah is indignant, Ezra is overwhelmed. Nehemiah "contends," Ezra weeps. Nehemiah curses the transgressors, and smites them, and plucks off their hair, and "makes them" amend; Ezra is prostrate from morning until evening, solemnly intercedes with God on their behalf, and wins the people to concern and repentance. This is the sacrificial spirit, feeling and confessing the sins of others as our own, bearing their transgressions, and recovering them by suffering; it is the lesson of the cross, the Christian spirit.
4. The firmness, even ruthlessness, with which he commands the separation of the husbands from their wives and children also bespeak the man of the study. None have shewn themselves more able to rise above family ties, none have more imperiously demanded this sacrifice from others, than those whose lofty ideal, cherished in the cell, has known none of the abatement which we learn to make in social intercourse. There is room for such men in history, and a work sometimes which none can do so well as they. Here are, unquestionably, the elements of a noble character. Not the only noble type, nor need we inquire if the noblest; enough that his was the character required for the reforms he inaugurated. Nehemiah was not called to do over again the work Ezra did. The style of Nehemiah's record (Nehemiah 13:23-28) indicates a very different state of things from that which Ezra found. This is the true test of the value of a man's character, that he is fit for the work he has to do; the test of his worth is that he does it effectually.
II. THE REFORMATION EZRA WROUGHT. He went up on a twofold errand. His own object was to teach the people "the words of the commandment of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel." Disobedience of these had always been the crying sin of the nation, and had entailed on it its woes (Ezra 9:7); the new favour God had extended to them would be forfeited if they disregarded his laws (Ezra 9:14). And the disobedience that would provoke God might be through ignorance as well as through presumption. A nation perishes through ignorance; the violation of the Divine order brings social disorganisation and rain, it needs not that the violation be wilful. In the sacrifice offered on his arrival, together with the renewal of consecration - the burnt offering, and the feast of thanksgiving - the peace-offering, there occurs again the touching sin-offering, twelve he-goats are sacrificed to acknowledge and ask pardon for sins of ignorance. In the disordered state of the times it was certain there must have been many defects in the people's service, many errors, many transgressions of which they were not conscious, and these must be confessed. Then he was charged with a double mission from Artaxerxes, the gentle prince at that time reigning over Persia. The furnishing of the temple was to be proceeded with; he was laden with gifts for this purpose (Ezra 8:25-27); he was charged to attend to its service, and empowered to draw from the royal revenues what was needed for a stately ritual (Ezra 7:16, 17, 22). He was also commissioned to set magistrates and judges over the people charged with the administration of Jewish law, and he was empowered to execute it (Ezra 7:25, 26). Artaxerxes knew that the law of the Lord was more than a mere ritual, that it prescribed social customs and regulated the life of the people, and he sympathised with Nehemiah's desire to re-establish its rule. One great reform, however, overshadows all other works of Ezra; when this is-recorded the book abruptly closes, as if Ezra's work was done. The story of Ezra's dismay at hearing of the marriages of the Jews with the heathen, and his prompt dissolution of the marriages, is so far removed from the tolerant spirit of modern Christendom that it needs some special observations.
1. These were idolatrous heathen, not monotheistic heathen like the Persians; they were the heathen of Syria, whose worship was fouled with lust and blood. The term "abominations," as applied to their customs, is no mere outburst of Jewish arrogance; the tolerant modern spirit is revolted by the record. Intermarriage with them meant sharing in their festivals, and exposed the Jews to the utmost peril (cf. Nehemiah 13:26). The past sufferings of the people should have warned them against this new folly; it seemed like provoking God, so soon to forget the past (Ezra 9:6-15). The inter- marriage of the people, and especially of the priests, with idolatrous women was unfaithfulness to the purpose for which they had been restored from Babylon; a betrayal of the confidence reposed in them by Cyrus and his successors; a denial of the testimony of Zerubbabel and Jeshua (Ezra 4:3); it argued indifference to their national position, contempt of their Divine calling.
2. The demand for divorce seems inconsistent with Paul's counsel (1 Corinthians 7:14), and the hopeful charity on which it is based; with many of Christ's words, and the spirit of Christ's life; it seems to argue the terror of the separatist rather than the confidence of the strong believer. We must not, however, argue the question from a Christian, but from a Jewish, stand- point; it is as foolish to look into the Old Testament for modern ethics as for modern science. The immense moral force of the gospel renders possible a genial and tolerant spirit which was not possible to an earnest Jew. As a matter of fact, the seductions of idolatry had always proved stronger than the attraction of Judaism; the heathen corrupted the Hebrew, the Hebrew did not convert the heathen. Judaism, with all its signal merits, was not a missionary faith; its office was protest, not evangelisation; the spiritual power of the gospel was not in it - the cross, and resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. The presence of these forces in Christianity is the reason of its tolerant spirit; it moves freely in a world which it has power to change and sanctify; its work is not to protest, but to reclaim; the Son of man came not to judge the world, but to save the world. Some practical lessons: -
1. A lesson of wisdom. Force of character is needed as well as a pure religious faith to render Christian intercourse with the world a safe thing. The stronger will draw the weaker; and it is not always the Christian who is the stronger. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful, but all things edify not. All things are lawful, but I will not be brought under the power of any."
2. No sacrifice is too great which is needed that we may preserve our spiritual integrity. Natural tastes and faculties - the eye, and hand, and foot; the tenderest ties - father and mother, sister and brother, wife and husband.
3. The true object of toleration. It is that the noblest, holiest influence may prevail. Christian tolerance is not indifference to truth and falsehood, evil and good; it is not a passive grace, a mere easy disposition; it is an intensely active, a missionary grace. It is bent on overcoming evil with good. If it were otherwise, it would neither be fidelity to God nor charity to man. - M.
I. THE GREETING.
1. The monarch announces himself. "Artaxerxes king of kings."
(1) This, in its perfect sense, is a title of Messiah (see Revelation 17:14; Revelation 19:16). He is destined to become the universal monarch (Daniel 7:14; Revelation 11:15). Happy will this earth be under the sway of his intelligence and grace (Isaiah 35.). For any earthly potentate to affect this title, in its full sense, would be at once blasphemous and ridiculous.
(2) In a limited sense Artaxerxes was "king of kings." This title was given to the king of Babylon by God himself (see Jeremiah 27:6-11; Ezekiel 26:7; Daniel 2:37). The Persians succeeded to the empire of the Babylonians.
(3) Artaxerxes used this title religiously. He acknowledged in it his vast indebtedness to the providence of God. So its equivalent was used by Cyrus (see Ezra 1:2). The whole tenor of this letter sustains this view. Glorying is legitimate when we glory in the Lord (see Jeremiah 9:23, 24; 1 Corinthians 1:31).
2. He addresses his letter:
(1) "Unto Ezra the priest." The emphatic article is used because Ezra stood out prominently amongst the priests of his nation by his many noble qualities. Noble qualities evermore give Christians distinction among their brethren.
(2) "A scribe of the law of the God of heaven." The margin, with justice, makes the word "perfect" in the next member of this sentence a part of this, so reading it "a perfect scribe," etc. He calls himself (ver. 11) "a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of his statutes to Israel." Here is an obvious reference to that great work with which he is credited by the Jews, viz., issuing under Divine inspiration a corrected edition of the more ancient books of Scripture. Ezra rejoiced more in this title than in that of his governorship. Spiritual are vastly more noble than earthly distinctions.
(3) "Peace, and at such a time." This form of expression is common in Persian state documents (see Ezra 4:10). The import seems to be that the peace, tranquillity, or happiness which the document is intended to promote may continue to be enjoyed so long as it continues to be, as at present it is, merited. No peace is so blessed or so enduring as that peace of God which passeth understanding.
II. THE FAVOURS. Ver. 13, etc. The particulars are -
1. Permission to go up to Jerusalem.
(1) This, in the document, is implied rather than expressed, but yet so implied as not to be mistaken.
(2) Ezra was a captive, and could not move without permission. How can slaves of sin escape its wrath without manumission from God?
2. Permission to the Jews to go up with him.
(1) The different classes of them are specified, viz., priests, Levites, stagers, porters, and Nethinims, together with the people of the tribes (vers. 13, 24).
(2) This permission was not to be construed into an expulsion. They were free to go or stay (ver. 13). All religious service should be voluntary.
3. Authority to set things in order in Judaea.
(1) This authority was not to be questioned. It came direct from the crown, and with deliberation, for it is with the advice of the seven counsellors. The names of seven such counsellors may be found in Esther (Esther 1:13, 14).
(2) It was authority to inquire, viz., into the extent to which disorganisation and demoralisation may have been carried. Then to adjust, viz., by appointing faithful magistrates and judges (ver. 25). And if necessary to punish the refractory (ver. 26). This power of life and death was withdrawn from Jewish magistrates in after times (see John 18:31). The sceptre was then visibly departing from Judah because Shiloh had come.
4. Authority over the Persian deputies beyond the river.
(1) The powers now described were not limited to Judaea. If the "river" here be the Euphrates rather than the Jordan, which is agreeable to the use of this phrase in Scripture, then the commission of Ezra invested him with very extensive powers. But whatever provinces were comprehended under the expression, there were Persian deputies there (Ezra 4:20; Ezra 7:21). This authority would effectually check opposition from the ancient enemies of the Jews.
(2) The treasurers were instructed to furnish Ezra with whatever he might require for the service of God, in silver, wheat, wine, oil, and salt (vers. 21-24).
5. Commission to carry offerings to God.
(1) "Silver and gold freely offered by the king and his counsellors" (ver. 15). Here was a mark of confidence in the integrity of Ezra 1
(2) "All the silver and gold" which the people "in the province of Babylon" were willing to confide to him. There never was a time when Gentiles were necessarily excluded from the service of God. Now the partition is broken down.
(3) "With the free-will offerings of the people and of the priests," etc., viz., for the provision of sacrifices and offerings daily required in the temple.
(4) And from the king's treasure-house vessels to be delivered to the house of God, and whatever else might be needed for his service (vers. 19, 20). Upon review of the whole subject three things strike us, viz. -
1. The wonderful accuracy of the knowledge of this heathen king of the religion of the Jews.
2. The largeness of his liberality in the service of the God of heaven.
3. The enlightened judgment which he formed of the true principles of civil government. In these things he is not an unworthy pattern even to Christians. - J.A.M.
I. ITS FAITH. "Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done," etc. (ver. 23). Evidently Artaxerxes thoroughly believed in the existence and the power of Jehovah. It is noteworthy that he speaks of him not as the God of Judaea or of the Jews, but as "the God of heaven" (vers. 12, 23). Whence this? Chiefly, if not wholly, from what he saw of the Jews about his court; of their strength of conviction, refusing, as they did, to accommodate themselves to the evil ways of the land they lived in - to "do at Rome as Rome did;" of their purity of life; of their probity; of their diligence. Probably Ezra's own character and demeanour exerted a powerful influence on his mind. The captives lived the truth, and the monarch became its subject.
II. ITS FEAR. "Why should there be wrath against the realm of the king," etc. (ver. 23)? Artaxerxes had at least so much fear of the living God that he desired to propitiate him and to avert his wrath. This is, as it ever was, the chief note of pagan piety. It is a system of propitiating power and averting its anger rather than reverencing goodness and rejoicing in its love. "I will let you go," said the Persian king; "take money, vessels, etc.; levy tributes at the expense of my people, etc.; sacrifice, pray; for 'why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?'" Our missionaries continually witness the prevalence of this feeling of dread of the wrath of a higher power and attempts to divert it, as the sum total of pagan piety. Fear is not a false or wrong principle in religion. "Noah, moved with fear, prepared an ark," etc. (Hebrews 11:7). "Thou, even thou, art to be feared: and who may stand in thy sight when once thou art angry" (Psalm 76:7)? But, good so far as it goes, it does not suffice; it must pass on into that which is higher - into reverence, trust, love, obedience.
III. ITS OCCASIONAL EXCELLENCY OF BEHAVIOUR (vers. 13-18; 21, 22, 25). Hardly anything could have been better - indeed, considering the light and the shade in which he lived, we may say nothing could have been better - than the king's conduct toward the people of God. He freely gave them up as his subjects (and they were valuable ones) to return to their own land (ver. 13); gave freely himself, and invited his courtiers to give also of their possessions towards the expenses of the exodus (vers. 14, 15); gave full permission to Ezra to get all he could from his own compatriots (ver. 16); gave wise directions as to the use of the treasure, with leave to regulate all things according to the "will of their God" (vers. 17, 18); took measures for the same succours to be granted beyond the river (vers. 21, 22), and charged Ezra with the exercise of political powers, bidding him also discharge his functions as a teacher of the law of God (ver. 25). Thus the pagan king did his best to serve the cause he espoused. "What his hand found to do he did with his might" (Ecclesiastes 9:10). Much more incumbent is it on us, who live in such brighter light than he, with whom so many shadows have flown away, to work with our whole strength, putting not only our hand, but also our mind and our heart, into any task we undertake for God and for his people. But of this pagan piety we must see -
IV. ITS INSUFFICIENCY. Artaxerxes did well so far as he went; but he did not go far enough. He had faith enough in God to fear him; and fear enough to take some considerable trouble, on one occasion, to avert his displeasure. But he did not yield to him the chief place in his heart. He had not such regard and reverence for God as to put away his superstitions and malpractices. We dare not inquire further into the particulars of his life. True piety is in giving to God, to the Lord Jesus Christ, the supreme place in our hearts; making him, not ourselves, the King of kings and Lord of lords (ver. 12), Sovereign of our soul, Lord of our life. Not one fine spurt of zeal, like this of the Persian monarch, but a continuous regal force, uplifting our spirit day by day to heaven, regulating our feelings, controlling our will, shaping and guiding our words and deeds, in all relations and in every sphere - that is the piety which pleases God. - C.
I. THE ESTEEM WHICH THE ROYAL HAD FOR THE RELIGIOUS. "Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace" (ver. 12). Ezra had so conducted himself as to win the regard of the king; the king admitted the moral character of Ezra in all its grandeur. The minister must gain the esteem of his comrades before he can influence them for good; piety is attractive, and when rightly manifested will win the esteem even of a heathen king. The enemies of Christ cannot but admire the devout scribe. The Christian is the light of the world, and as such will attract by his moral loveliness.
II. THE INQUIRY WHICH THE ROYAL MADE THROUGH THE RELIGIOUS. "To inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem" (ver. 14). The king sends Ezra on an important commission.
1. Authoritative. "Thou art sent of the king and of his seven counsellors." The true minister is sent of God to his work. The moral often requires the authority of the civil and political.
2. Interrogative. "To inquire." The true minister has many inquiries to make concerning the moral condition of men.
3. Religious. The mission of Ezra had chiefly a moral purpose; he was sent to Judah and Jerusalem. Ministerial inquiries must be of a religious character; concerning the work of God.
4. Regulative. "According to the law of thy God." Man must measure life by God's law; how Ezra's teaching appears in this decree of the king. It is the duty of the Church to watch over the welfare of the state; this is part of its commission.
III. THE RESOURCE WHICH THE ROYAL INTRUSTED TO THE RELIGIOUS. "And to carry the silver and gold, which the king and his counsellors have freely offered unto the God of Israel, whose habitation is in Jerusalem" (ver. 15). The king intrusts Ezra with great treasure; religion conduces to honesty and awakens confidence. The true minister will always be faithful to the treasures and trusts of men - monetary, experimental, and moral. The state may safely commit its most sacred interests to the care of the Church.
IV. THE DISCRETION WHICH THE ROYAL PERMITTED TO THE RELIGIOUS.
1. As to amplitude of resource (vers. 18-20).
2. As to judicial arrangements (ver. 25).
3. As to the requirements of God's house (ver. 23).
4. As to exemption from civil duty (ver. 24).
The true minister requires and must be allowed full discretionary powers; always subservient to the Divine law. God places great resources at the command of his servants, greater than Artaxerxes had to give.
V. THE PROPITIATION WHICH THE ROYAL SOUGHT FROM THE RELIGIOUS. "For why should there be wrath against the realm of the king" (ver. 23)? The king sought the aid of the scribe in Order that he might propitiate an offended Deity. Men seek the spiritual from varied motives; often animated by fear; they little know that God's way is merciful to them. The spiritual often remove national calamity; the true minister will be glad to do all he can to remove the wrath of God from men. - E.
the principles which should guide liberality in the cause of God, as to its measure, its spirit, and its reasons.
I. THE MEASURE.
1. This should be generous. "Whatsoever Ezra the priest," etc.
(1) Provision for the immediate wants of the temple had already been made in the free gifts - viz., from the king, from his counsellors, from his people in the province of Babylon, from the Jews abiding there (see vers. 15-20).
(2) This direction was intended to sustain the service in perpetuity. Fitful generosity is better than none; but principle, rather than emotion or passion, should guide. The cause of God should not languish for support until men make their wills and die.
(3) The ministers of the sanctuary were to be exempted from taxation (ver. 24). The reason is that they were dependent for support upon the gifts of the people; and it is respectful to their sacred office that they should be generously treated.
2. It should not be reckless.
(1) Here is a prescribed limit. "Unto," etc. (ver. 22). A talent of silver is estimated as equivalent to £400, so here the limit is f 40,000. The measure (cor) is estimated at 86 gallons, so here the limit is 8600 gallons of wheat. The bath is seven gallons and five pints, so the limit of wine is 760 gallons.
(2) Two things should limit our liberality - viz.,
(a) The necessity of the case.
(b) Our ability. If we give what is not ours we act fraudulently.
3. It should be religious. "Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven," etc. (ver. 23).
(1) The laws of God are reasonable, merciful, just.
(2) Therefore if "the scribe of the God of heaven," an inspired man, be he Ezra, Moses, or Paul, in the sacred writings, make demands, these should be respected.
(3) But this does not say that uninspired men, because in clerical orders, have any right dogmatically to prescribe to the laity. If there be no sphere for the right of private judgment, there is an end to individual responsibility.
II. THE SPIRIT.
1. It should be diligent. "Let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven" (ver. 23).
(1) Sacred objects are fittingly called "charities," or objects of love. The cause of God in all its departments should be dear to us, and the claims of these will be diligently studied as a labour of love.
(2) Pains should be taken so to minister liberality that the maximum of good may be attained. Causes should be "sought out" (Job 29:16). Promiscuous relief may encourage deception, and what is given to the worthless is diverted from the worthy.
(3) Careless donors are responsible to God for the misery they might have alleviated by the use of diligence.
2. It should be prompt. "Let it be done speedily" (ver. 21).
(1) This note was rendered necessary by the tardy manner in which things are commonly done in the East. Through this slowness incalculable misery is endured. But "the king's business requires haste."
(2) Much more the work of God. This is of the utmost importance. Eternal issues depend upon it. Time is running. Souls are perishing.
III. THE REASONS.
1. It should be done unto God.
(1) Ezra was to receive from the treasurers what he needed - viz., in his capacity as "the priest" and the "scribe of the law of the God of heaven." What he should need for the temple and the altar. What his learning in the law of God should instruct him was needful to the service of the God of heaven (ver. 23).
(2) No higher reason than this can be conceived.
2. The prosperity of the realm required it. "For why should wrath be against the realm?" The history of nations shows that as they became haughty against God they suffered adversity. Egypt. Old Canaan. Nineveh. Babylon.
(2) Why should not a blessing be upon the realm? Was not the hand of God conspicuous in the prosperity of Persia (see Ezra 1:2)? At this very time Longimanus began to be successful against a formidable rebellion in Egypt.
3. The happiness of the royal family is concerned.
(1) "Why should wrath be against the king?" The reverses of a nation are reverses to the king. But the king, like his subjects, has his individual responsibilities to God. His elevation no more exempts him than their obscurity conceals them from his claims upon the personal homage of intellect and heart.
(2) Why should wrath be against the king's "sons"? God has set mankind in families, so "the seed of the righteous is blessed." History also shows how families are ruined by irreligion. The antediluvians. The posterity of Nebuchadnezzar (see Daniel 5:5). Money is a prodigious power for evil or for good. Those who have it should never cease to pray for grace to use it wisely. - J.A.M.
I. HE ACKNOWLEDGES GOD IN HIS COVENANT CAPACITY.
1. This is expressed in the terms "God of.
(1) This is shown in the record of the Sinai covenant (see Deuteronomy 29:10-13). Thenceforward Jehovah speaks of himself as the God of Israel."
(3) So likewise when all blessings culminate in the bliss of heaven, and the mercy of the covenant is fulfilled (see Revelation 21:7).
2. Covenant relationship subsists in Christ.
3. The promise of the Christ was the establishment of the covenant with the "fathers.
(1) Hence the covenant in the family of Noah was limited to Shem, who was elected to be the progenitor of the promised seed (see Genesis 9:26).
(2) In the family of Shem it was afterwards limited to Abraham for the same reason (see Genesis 17:7, 8).
(3) In the family of Abraham Ishmael was excluded and Isaac chosen (Genesis 26:24).
(4) In the family of Isaac the limitation was to Jacob (Genesis 30:13-15).
(5) In the family of Jacob the restriction was to Judah (Genesis 49:8-10).
(7) In the line of David the promise was fulfilled with the Virgin Mary (see Luke 1:67-79).
II. HE ASCRIBES HIS SUCCESS TO THE EXTENSION TO HIM OF THE MERCY OF THE COVENANT.
1. The covenant was not established with Ezra.
(1) He was of the tribe of Levi (see ver. 1-5). Levi was shut out when Judah was chosen.
(2) Why then does Ezra speak of the Lord as his God? This expression may have reference to the temporal blessings of the covenant which were made over to all the tribes, and embodied in the Law. Thus, as he expresses it -
2. The mercy of the God of his fathers was extended to him.
(1) Temporal blessings are extended to all who have connection with the favoured line. Thus Esau was blessed because he was the seed of Isaac, who had the promise of the holy seed (Genesis 27:39, 40). In like manner Ishmael had temporal blessings because he was the seed of Abraham (Genesis 17:20).
(2) But the farther back the connection is, the farther off is the person concerned. Hence the Israelites, in general, are spoken of as nigh;" while the Gentiles, some of whom would have to go back as far as Noah before they touched a patriarch with whom the covenant was established, are spoken of as "afar off" (Ephesians 2:17).
3. To this extension of the mercy of the God of the covenant to him he attributes his influence.
(1) The king of Persia, the counsellors, and the mighty princes all felt the influence of his integrity and ingenuity. The people of Israel also felt these influences. So did the "chief men" who gathered around him and acted as his lieutenants.
(2) But all this influence he traces to God's mercy extended to him. What a rebuke is here to those who plume themselves upon their influence or abilities!
III. HE RECOGNISES THE INTERESTS OF THE COVENANT AS THE TRUE REASON FOR THE PERSIAN FAVOUR.
1. The covenant God put it into the heart of the king.
(1) God does put things into men's hearts. We should see his hand in all the good that is done by rulers and magistrates.
(2) In so doing he serves the purposes of his covenant. The measures to which Artaxerxes was prompted were important links in the chain of events which issued in the advent of Messiah. The very "temple" which the king "beautified" was to become the scene of some of the grandest predicted events (Haggai 2:5-9; Malachi 3:1). Consider -
2. How the covenant has moulded history.
(1) Ancient history is preserved to us only in so far as it stood related to the people of the covenant. Persian history is especially interesting in this view.
(2) Modern history is no less intimately connected with the people of God. Those nations who have the purest truth of the gospel are the most influential in moulding the politics of the world. No matter how "far off" he may be, no man is so remote from the covenant as not to feel its influence in temporal blessing. Whereas every limitation of the covenant down to the advent of Messiah tended to remove collateral lines further off, now since his coming this tendency is reversed, and he is "lifted up" that he may "draw all men unto him" (see Ephesians 2:13-22). - J.A.M.
I. Aspects of GOD. "Blessed be the Lord God" (ver. 27).
1. He is blessed by devout men.
2. He is the God of our fathers.
3. He puts good things into the hearts of men.
II. Aspects of MANHOOD (ver. 28).
1. Mercy extended. "And hath extended mercy unto me."
2. Influence augmented. "Before the king and his counsellors."
3. Encouragement imparted. "I was strengthened."
4. Enterprise undertaken. "And I gathered together out of Israel," etc. - E.